A good escape room is usually a unique experience, involving at least one or two challenges that you might not have faced before. Trying to up your escape percentage by learning ciphers or brushing up on your logic puzzles is a pretty useless endeavour (although it’s fun, so you should do it anyway). Indeed, a lot of people seem to think that there’s no way you can be “good” at something as random and varied as escape games.
There are, however, plenty of general things you can keep in mind that’ll improve your chances of beating pretty much any room. Most of them fall under the umbrella of being either organised or good at teamwork. With that in mind I’m probably the least qualified person in the world to assemble a list of such tips… but here it is nonetheless.
Pick Your Teammates
Needless to say you do better at any group task when you’re not fighting with your teammates like cats in a carpet bag. Play with people you know you get along with and you’ll likely have a much easier time. However many great friends you have on hand, however, it’s best not to pack out a room to capacity. Most venues drastically overestimate the perfect number of participants for their games, and if you go with the maximum allowance of players you’ll likely end up missing things, treading on toes, or standing around with nothing to do for the majority of your game.
Search Like A Boss
Almost all escape rooms involve some element of searching. Indeed, some games make you do so much scrambling around under tables it can feel like you’ve lost your wallet. It’s a good idea to get a jump on things and begin any room by giving it a FAA-grade frisk. Look under tables, on top of picture frames, in drawers and in between the pages of books. If there are enough of you in the room, divide up the space so that you don’t end up covering the same ground six times over.
Group Things Neatly
While searching you’ll often uncover a veritable treasure trove of weird macguffins, many of which won’t see use until later in the game. Think jigsaw-puzzle pieces, torn fragments of treasure map, stackable pieces of stone idol, etc, etc. Establish a place to put these things – if there’s a clear table in the room, that’s the perfect spot. By keeping them all together you’ll be able to find them easily when you finally do need them, and you’ll be able to see more easily when you’ve found enough of a given item to solve a puzzle.
Once It’s Used, Get Rid
Just like mouthwash, elements in an escape room are rarely used more than once. Once a key has unlocked something, you might as well leave it in the lock. The same goes for other puzzle elements; after they’ve been used, stick them in a pile and forget about them. If something does need to be used more than just once there’ll generally be something about it or the game designed to clue you in to that fact. Save yourself time and brain-ache by focussing solely on the bits and bobs you haven’t yet used.
When you solve a puzzle, notice a pattern, or discover something new, tell your team. This allows you to match up things that belong together and saves them from spending half the game racking their brains over stuff you’ve already cracked. Similarly, keep an ear out for updates from the rest of your team, and actually listen when they make suggestions – obviously they’re not as smart as you are, but they might nevertheless have noticed something you missed.
Ignore Irrelevant Details
Electrical sockets, cameras, ceiling tiles and wall-mounted wiring rarely have anything to do with the game you’re playing, even if they do look super-enticing. Save yourself some time (and avoid embarrassing electric shocks) and ignore them. Also worth overlooking are small, illegible markings on antique furniture and small labels or etched lettering on electronic devices. Generally speaking it should be pretty clear when something is or isn’t part of the game. If in doubt – ask the Games Master before sticking your fingers in a socket.
Don’t Be Shy About Hints
Most escape games have a hint system for a reason. If you’ve been stuck on a single puzzle for five minutes or more and you can’t see anything else you could be working on, it’s probably time to think about using it. Some people are coy about asking for hints because they think it’s “cheating”. It’s not. Even the most well-designed rooms have their sticking points, and it’s not a huge amount of fun to spend the entire game stuck on them. Do yourself a favour, get a hint, and go back to enjoying yourself.
Jump To Conclusions
If you’re pressed for time, you often don’t need to completely resolve every single puzzle. If you’re seeking, for example, four digits for a combination lock, you can save time by locating the first three and then guessing the last one rather than prolonging the search. Likewise it’s sometimes possible to guess the solution to a word-based puzzle before decoding every single letter. Caveat: this is a shortcut for final digits or letters only. Don’t be the guy who sits there for ten minutes cycling through every possible combination on a three-digit lock. Nobody likes that guy.
Although it’s fun to watch people work on puzzles (particularly if they’re comically bad at them), resist the urge to cluster and stare while one team member does the does the problem-solving. If you can’t contribute without getting in the way, take a look around the room for something else to do. You can work on a different puzzle, engage in a little spot of cheeky searching, or (last resort) offer some kind of moral support in the form of encouraging words and pats on the back.
Locks Can Be Fiddly
Combination locks in particular can sometimes be a little tricky. If you’re sure you’ve got the right sequence of numbers but the lock isn’t opening, try pressing the shackle into the body and jiggling the code wheels a little to make sure they’re lined up right. If that doesn’t work, trade with a teammate and ask them to check that you’ve entered the code correctly. Sometimes it’s just down to bad eyesight, big fingers, or a lack of definition between a six and a nine.
Wear A Watch And Work Fast
A wristwatch (may I recommend the classic Casio Illuminator if you don’t have one already) can save you a bunch of time in certain rooms. Rather than having to duck back from one area to another to check how long you have left, you can just glance at your wrist. Don’t, however, try and set your pace yourself according to how many locks you can see you have left to undo – it’s entirely possible that there’s a whole hidden room full of extra puzzles that you simply haven’t discovered yet!